Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thoughts on Tomiki Kata

Kata was one of the major additions Tomiki Sensei brought to the art of Aikido. Kata being defined as prearranged movement, typically with two people working on technique.

Kata is typically, or supposedly handed down in a standard form, what Charles Clark Sensei calls Seito Gata. Seito gata, means student kata or student form.

One of the questions I have been asking myself is, is there only one form, or one perfect kata? Or perhaps should we view it as an organic creation that is ever evolving? Which version should I teach to my students?

Lets take a look at a technique I have been unhappy with, Kote Hineri.

This is the classic style, and the style that it has been handed down to me. I have never really liked it. The angles are strange for my interactions, I never score it in randori, and I think it is too much like an elbow technique anyhow.

Then I discovered an Aikikai version. They call it Sankyo.

Because I changed my understanding of the technique, it has suddenly become my strongest technique. I almost have to stop myself from falling into it too much. So here is the problem. Why would I continue to teach an inferior way to do the technique. At what point do I have the right to alter the kata to suit my evolving style?

I suppose it is a rhetorical question, because I already have changed my kata and the way I teach it. I just feel like most Aikidoka have never given themselves permission to change. I feel like most are trying to studiously copy the angles techniques and teachings of those who have come before. This is great and important, but I do not feel we become artists until we begin the process of creation and accepting the ideas that really work for ourselves.

When I asked Waddell Sensei about changing techniques, he responded that he did not care. "The proof is in the pudding." was his response. Having new variation that works for you is far more valuable than classic forms that you cannot do.


  1. I think a master recreates his martial art through his own understanding.

  2. I read this quote from Morihei Ueshiba recently over at Aiki-Kazushi, and it makes a certain kind of sense: “You’ve seen my aikido; now go out and find your own.”

    I'm curious though about the results you're getting (I'd love to see a video!). The technique Stenudd Sensei performed in this video starts out like our kote hineri but then ends with something more like our tenkai kote hineri (which is a wonderful technique that I snag a lot too), so are we really talking about two techniques put together?

    At any rate, years ago, I used to hate gedan ate, and never understood it. But then I experienced a couple of skilled folks do it to me (Jim Ellison Sensei and Nick Lowry Sensei). Suddenly, it made much more sense! Now I like it a lot more.

    So, on one hand, I would say go find someone who does something really, really well and feel what it's like and see what happens.

    Then again, the proof IS in the pudding. There usually is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat.

  3. To be sure my friend! I agree.

    I think finding a way that works is the first step. Next step is to find a better way. Then, yup you guessed it rinse and repeat.

    As ability increases so do the number of variations we can master.